A confidential government report said at least 27,000 to 40,000 people lost their lives during and after Indian troops entered Hyderabad state to force the ruler to surrender.
It is one of the best-kept secrets in the annals of Indian history.
What exactly happened in Hyderabad on and after 17 September 1948 when the might of the Indian Army forced the Nizam of Hyderabad to surrender and merge his kingdom with the Indian Union, 13 months after India had become an independent country?
The day is celebrated every year by the votaries of Telangana — that is pretty much the old Hyderabad state geographically, barring districts that became part of present-day Maharashtra and Karnataka — as Hyderabad Liberation Day.
Except that if they knew the bloodshed that took place then, they would realise there isn’t much to celebrate about.
After reports that the Nizam’s Army was committing atrocities on innocent civilians, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel decided enough was enough and ordered the Army into Hyderabad.
Though its technical names were “Operation Polo” and “Operation Caterpillar”, it was more commonly referred to as “Police Action”.
And while there was no resistance from the Nizam’s Army, civilians indulged in loot and killings, largely of the minority community. And the Indian state turned a blind eye to what happened.
“There were more like revenge killings as well as loot. More so of Muslim traders particularly in the districts that today are part of Karnataka and Maharashtra,”‘ says Captain Pandu Ranga Reddy, a researcher.
A three-member delegation of Congress leaders, consisting of Pandit Sunderlal, Kazi Abdul Ghaffar and Moulana Misri, toured Hyderabad for three weeks in December 1948 and submitted a report from ground zero. And their report was so explosive that till date, it has not been declassified.
A request by Pandu Ranga Reddy to the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library at Teenmurti House in New Delhi asked for the Sunderlal report on Hyderabad, through the RTI Act.
The library replied to Reddy in January that the said report was not available.
However, historian Md Safiullah, using his influential contacts, could finally procure a copy of the report titled ‘CONFIDENTIAL’ in July this year.
The report under a heading ‘Killing and Looting’ states: “We can say at a very conservative estimate that in the whole state at least 27,000 to 40,000 people lost their lives during and after Police Action”.
Historians say the then government was not pleased with the work done by the committee, with Patel personally chiding the members. “I have copies of the letters written by Sardar Patel to Kazi Abdul Ghaffar asking him who asked you to go to Hyderabad. Who asked you to report all these things about the Government of India?’ says Safiullah.
The name Police Action too was coined essentially with a view to hoodwink the United Nations.
The term Police Action was a misnomer because if the Indian government had called it military action, it would have invited UN intervention as it would have been seen as India invading another state.
“It would have led to war,'” says Safiullah.
The Nizam did go to the UN but he withdrew his complaint on September 17 in a broadcast to the Hyderabad state.
However, the UN refused to pay heed to it, arguing that the withdrawal was under duress and kept it alive for another 50 years.
Pandu Ranga Reddy believes that it was because of the case still being alive at the UN that Hyderabad state was merged with Andhra state to form Andhra Pradesh in 1956.
“The idea was to remove Hyderabad state as an entity from the map. I believe that in 1969, when the demand to form Telangana came up, (then Prime Minister) Indira Gandhi did not agree to it because she knew a case was on in the UN and it would not be prudent to create Telangana which was the same geographical area as old Hyderabad state,” says Reddy.
Interestingly, the first Emergency of independent India was declared in September 1948.
A state of Emergency was declared when 36,000 Indian troops entered Hyderabad because the government was apprehensive how the minorities in other parts of India would react to this takeover.